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Presentation and selection in food pantries

January 21, 2016

Can adjustments in the presentation of food make a difference in the choices, especially among people living in poverty? Are clients at food pantries likely to make the healthiest food choices? New research published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research suggests that food pantry clients deal with a number factors that can lead to a less healthy choice and that simple adjustments in the pantry set-up may help increase healthy choices.

The study's researcher, Norbert Wilson professor at Auburn University in Alabama spent over a year visiting food pantries in Alabama and New York. He developed the paper based on marketing research and conversations and observations in food pantries that support the findings of this review study.

Despite the best of efforts of food pantries, they offer a variety of foods which range in healthiness. Clients at pantries make food decisions based on a number of factors. That decision process is influenced by ways that the clients cope with their limited resources. Further, food pantries may inadvertently place foods in a manner that encourages the selection of unhealthy products: such as placing whole wheat pasta at the bottom of the display or sugar-sweetened drinks at the beginning of the choice set. These unintentional designs can affect all shoppers, regardless of resources, but the findings of this paper argue that people in poverty are less likely to make the healthiest choices in the setting because of consumer vulnerability.

In this descriptive study, the author suggests a series of easy, low cost modifications in food pantries that can nudge clients to make healthier choices. "By raising the profile of the healthier products," says Wilson, "clients may select these products over less healthy products." He continues, "Pantry organizers can help clients even more by making the healthy choice the easy choice."

This article is published in the inaugural issue of the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research entitled "The Behavioral Science of Eating." This issue has been edited by Brian Wansink of Cornell University and Koert van Ittersum of the University of Groningen.
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Cornell Food & Brand Lab

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